19. Steve Mounié
“When I was asked to make a wish when on a shooting star, since I was a kid, the only wish I had was to become a footballer.”
Steve Mounié has been dreaming for some time now. The new Huddersfield Town forward’s upward trajectory has been steep in recent months, shifting swiftly from Montpellier outcast to 8 figure transfer fee and Premier League goalscorer in less than two years. Keeping his goals in his crosshairs, Mounié now has designs on emulating his idol, Didier Drogba in England. It may be early Mounié’s career but the 23-year-old has every attribute to achieve such a feet.
Born in the West African nation of Benin, Mounié moved to Perpignan near the Spanish border in Southern France, traditionally a Rugby town, aged just 4 with his parents and older brother. After taking a very early interest in Judo, at 6 football caught the Mounié brothers’ attention with Steve eventually making his way to AS Perpignan as a teenager where, as Mounié humbly told SoFoot last year; ”I had good games and Montpellier spotted me”.
As part of the under 19 side, Mounié celebrated Montpellier’s surprise 2012 title win as a fan: “On the day of the title parade, I remember the bus of the pro’s passing a large roundabout one kilometer from the training center. We all ran behind the bus to see them.”
Nevertheless, after witnessing his club forge into the Champions League and the visits of Arsenal and Schalke as well as signing his first professional contract a year later, injuries pot-holed his development and his route to the first team was blocked. Despite assurances from then manager Roland Courbis, Mounié found himself farmed out to Montpellier’s local rivals on loan, Nimes of Ligue 2; a setback for the young striker.
“It hurt me. I took it as a failure… I had said to myself: ‘This year, it’s good, you’ll play’, then two days before the end of the transfer window, you are told: ‘You have to stop’. It’s not easy to find a club when you have not played a lot in Ligue 1”.
However, Mounié was able to stay positive despite not being accepted initially by his parent club’s Herault Derby adversaries, something Mounié says he saw as “more as a challenge than as a burden”, scoring 11 in 32 Ligue 2 games that season. A promising
record for a side that finished 14th, especially given the scarcity of goals in the French second division. His quiet but impressive goalscoring exploits for Nimes were enough to impress new Montpellier boss Frederic Hantz and upon his return to Stade de la Mosson, Mounié was back in favor.
“The coach called me at the end of the championship to tell me he counted me,” and after first choice forward Casimir Ninga suffered a long term knee injury, Mounié found himself as Hantz’s premier striker. Mounié told L’Équipe last season that he had set his personal goal scoring bar at 10. By the end of his first Ligue 1 campaign, Mounié had hit
14 for a struggling Montpellier team, and the Premier League beckoned.
Promoted Huddersfield’s £11.5m was enough to convince MHSC to part with their breakout forward and Mounie, along with his new teammates, hit the ground running in comfortably seeing off Crystal Palace on the opening day of the Premier League campaign.
The 3-0 win included a brace from the now Benin international in a display reminiscent of the new signing’s idol; Didier Drogba. “Sometimes I just watch video clips of him, scoring goals over here.” Mounie told the Telegraph, “I think I have a similar style to him. I am really like him.”
A physical, bullish playing style underlines Mounié’s claim and makes his game fitted snugly into the Premier League just as he was for the equally physical Ligue 1, suited to leading the line on his own. Crucially of course, as Palace found out, Mounié is capable of scoring different types of goals but is particularly lethal as a 6 yard poacher and with his head, both in finding the net and his team mates.
“He is very open-minded,” explained a delighted David Wagner, Mounie’s new coach. “He will ask if something is unknown to him and he is not sure what he has to do. He has a great working attitude, a real terrier attitude, which is unusual for a striker.”
Injury has curtailed Steve Mounié’s Premier League dream to date but the tigerish number 9 has proved repeatedly in the last two seasons that under estimating him is a mistake. If he can continue to impose his physicality, eye for goal and intensity on Huddersfield’s Premier League opponents as he did in France with Montpellier and Nimes and emulate his hero Didier Drogba, there may be no need to wish on a star any longer. Mounié has every chance of becoming one himself.
By: Adam White/@FRFootballAdam